Bulls

NBA Power Rankings: Leonard, Spurs go toe-to-toe with Warriors

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NBA Power Rankings: Leonard, Spurs go toe-to-toe with Warriors

The San Antonio Spurs made a statement on Saturday.

In their 87-79 victory over the defending champion Golden State Warriors, they used a steady dose of small ball, defensive prowess and Kawhi Leonard at his very best.

The Spurs' franchise player went for 18 points, 14 rebounds, four assists and two blocks, making plays on both ends of the floor. The Warriors are the team to beat until they're knocked off, but this week Leonard has the Spurs on top after an impressive home victory.

Previous power rankings: Preseason | Week 1 | Week 2 | Week 3 | Week 4 | Week 5 | Week 6 | Week 7 | Week 8 | Week 9 | Week 10 | Week 11 | Week 12 | Week 13 | Week 14 | Week 15 | Week 16 | Week 17 | Week 18 | Week 19 | Week 20

Rank (LW) Team
Record Comment
1 (2) 59-10 Kawhi Leonard was phenomenal in Saturday's win over the Warriors. If the Spurs are going to knock off the defending champs, it'll be because of No. 2.
(1) 62-7 Looking for a silver lining from Saturday's loss? Stephen Curry went 1-for-12 from deep, the Dubs shot 38% and still had a chance to win in San Antonio down the stretch.
(3) 49-20 49 wins, the top spot in the East and the fourth best point differential in the NBA. And yet, so many issues under Tyronn Lue. They're just a game up on Toronto now.
4 (4) 48-21 Not quite ready to dub them the East's best team, but they're getting closer. Kyle Lowry won Eastern Conference Player of the Week, averaging 27.2 points and 6.8 assists as the Raptors went 4-1.
5 (5) 48-22 Four straight victories, three against playoff teams (and one against the Sixers) and a healthy Russell Westbrook and Kevin Durant? San Antonio and Golden State get today's headline, but OKC is right there.
6 (7) 41-29 Five straight W's have them ahead of the pack in the race for the No. 3 seed. Still, arguably the East's hottest team has work to do, with two games left against both Cleveland and Toronto and one against Boston.
7 (8) 40-29 Talk about a statement maker. Miami drubbed LeBron James and the Cavaliers by 21 on Sunday, with five players scoring 16 or more points. Cleveland doesn't want any part of this team in May.
8 (6) 43-26 Losers in six of nine, they can all but kiss goodbye catching Oklahoma City for the No. 3 seed. That means a date with Golden State in Round 2, presuming the Clips advance that far. Paging Blake Griffin.
9 (10) 39-30 Another step forward for the Hornets, who earn an impressive road victory against Miami and are now just 1.5 games behind Atlanta for the No. 3 seed in the East. They remain red-hot.
10 (9) 40-30 This recent skid has dropped Brad Stevens' group all the way down to No. 5 in the East. With Toronto at home and a West Coast trip upcoming, things aren't getting any easier, plus Jae Crowder (ankle) remains out.
11 (11) 40-30 In a season ravaged with injury it was pretty awesome to see Zach Randolph log his first career triple-double in an impressive win over the Clippers. Z-Bo's about all that's holding Memphis together right now.
12 (13) 36-33 They go 1-2 at home against Boston (W), Toronto (L) and Oklahoma City (L). But now the schedule opens up, and they should distance themselves from Detroit and Chicago. Thirteen of their final 16 games are against teams at or below .500.
13 (15) 35-35 Wednesday's tilt against Utah will be the only game until Apr. 7 against an opponent below .500. Put another way? They need that one and then hope for a .500 mark in that six-game stretch.
14 (12) 36-35 Playing 11 of 13 on the road was daunting, and they've now lost four of their last six against stellar competition. They should be playoff-bound still, but a win over Dallas on Wednesday would ease some nerves in Portland.
15 (16) 35-33 Here's where the Bulls will make or break their playoff chances. They're 2-0 to start a six-game stretch against teams all below .500. After that, the schedule gets real tough to finish the year.
16 (14) 36-34 If Detroit is going to make a run at the No. 8 seed, Reggie Jackson needs to be more efficient. He's shooting just 41 percent from the field in March, and just 25.5 percent from deep.
17 (21) 34-35 It'll be tough for them to catch the Pistons or Bulls for the No. 8 seed (basketball-reference has them at 11.7% playoff odds) but reeling off four straight wins, including W's over both those teams, was a good start.
18 (19) 35-35 Dirk Nowitzki turned the clock back and dropped a 40-point afternoon on the Blazers in an OT victory. It was huge for playoff positioning, and the two teams will meet again Wednesday in Oregon.
19 (17) 34-36 They've now won five of six (and importantly won both games Gordon Hayward sat out, including over Cleveland) and sit a game back of the Rockets and Mavericks, plus 1.5 back of the Blazers.
20 (18) 30-40 Jabari Parker has increased his scoring in each month this season. Better than that, post-ACL surgery? He's averaged 37.3 and 36.2 minutes the last two months, respectively. He's back.
21 (24) 27-42 The good with the bad with DeMarcus Cousins. He bumped a Madison Square Garden security guard (the bad) in the midst of going for 24 points and 20 rebounds in a road win over the Knicks (good).
22 (20) 29-41 A rough start to the road trip, losing at Miami, Orlando and Atlanta. But seven players scored in double figures in an impressive victory over the Hornets. D.J. Augustin led the way off the bench with 24, continuing his hot stretch.
23 (22) 29-40 Victor Oladipo appears intent on finishing out his 2015-16 campaign strong, averaging 22.4 points, 4.5 rebounds and 3.4 assists over his last 11 games. His 45-point outing against the Cavs was a career-high.
24 (23) 26-43 Anthony Davis was shut down for the year, and he revealed Monday that he's been playing with a torn labrum for three years. Years. Davis will have missed 68 games the first four seasons of his NBA career. Not great.
25 (25) 22-47 When Karl-Anthony Towns is named NBA Rookie of the Year, it'll mark the first time since 1974 the same team won back-to-back ROYs (Andrew Wiggins, 2015). The Buffalo Braces did it with Bob McAdoo and Ernie DiGregorio.
26 (26) 28-43 He's had a remarkable rookie season, but Kristaps Porzingis appears to have hit a wall: 12.9 points, 33.7% FG in 27.3 minutes. The Knicks have lost eight of 11, which hasn't helped.
27 (27) 19-50 Forget it was at home against the Sixers. Bojan Bogdanovic's 44-point effort was pretty remarkable considering he only made four 3-pointers. He followed it up with 26 against the Bulls. Signs of hope for the future for the Nets.
28 (29) 19-50 Brandon Knight's return has helped the Suns go 2-3, far better than the 4-17 record they touted with him out. Then again, that could hurt them when it comes time to pick ping-pong balls.
29 (28) 14-55 A sneaky "good" loss to the Phoenix Suns on Saturday night. They're now five games up on the Suns and Nets for the second worst record in the NBA. They appear closer to keeping that first round pick.
30 (30) 9-61 Hollis Thompson has given the Sixers a bright spot on the wing with Robert Covington out, averaging 15.8 points and 2.5 triples in his last four games. He's someone who could stick looking to their future.

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

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USA TODAY

Reflective Jimmy Butler looks back on time in Chicago during All-Star weekend

LOS ANGELES — Jimmy Butler was absent from the scoresheet of the All-Star Game, unless you count a “DNP-Coaches’ Decision” as activity. Whether due to the All-Star festivities of the weekend or even the grinding minutes he plays under Tom Thibodeau, it wasn’t truly surprising to see him want to have a night off of sorts.

But what was mildly surprising was the reflection he displayed on Saturday at All-Star Media Day in reference to his time with the Chicago Bulls. Usually, Butler’s armor is up because of his feelings surrounding his draft-night departure.

“I learned a lot in Chicago,” Butler said. “Just all through the season and life in general. What to do, what not to do and how to adapt to any situation that you’ve been in. I’ve done that to the best of my abilities. I have a ways to go in that.”

It’s clear he’s still grasping the weight of his words as the best player on a team, or at least, the player whose words impact everything around him.

“A people pleaser? No, I just didn’t say much,” Butler said. “Now I just don’t care. I never talked whenever I was in the league at an early age. It really didn’t matter, nothing I did was gonna make or break us when it comes to losing a game. Now it does and I have a lot to say. Half the time it’s not the right time or right way to say it but it’s okay.”

Whether it was the battles with Bulls coach Fred Hoiberg or the internal struggles in the Bulls’ locker room through his ascension from bench warmer to rotation player to impact player to now, a legitimate star, he’s modifying his approach—just a tad.

“I’ve never been the best player on my own team. I was in Tomball,” he joked, in reference to his beginnings in small town Texas. “I wasn’t in junior college. At Marquette I wasn’t. I’m probably not now. In Chicago I wasn’t. You just pick up on it, watch others and learn.”

He admitted to writing in a journal and reading self-help books now that he’s in Minnesota. The novel he’s reading now, “Faith, Forward, Future” is authored by Chad Veach, a Los Angeles pastor and the subtitle of the book says “Moving past your disappointments, delays and destructive thinking.”

Whether he started the book following a slow start with the Timberwolves in November, where his nightly numbers looked like one of a high-level role player, he took some self-evaluation before leading the charge since, playing like an MVP candidate with 25.2 points, 5.5 rebounds and 5.3 assists on 49 percent shooting since the start of December.

“It’s relatively new. Yeah, basketball is still basketball but it’s hard when somebody else is coming in and roles change overnight,” Butler said. “You gotta see where you fit in with the group. At the end of the day you gotta win. I didn’t feel the way I was playing was our best opportunity to win games.”

Bringing along the likes of Andrew Wiggins and Karl-Anthony Towns, with Towns being a fellow All-Star for the first time, has been a process.

“I’ve never actually had to be a leader,” Butler said. “I just always done what I was supposed to do, didn’t say much and played hard. Now you know, everybody wants to call someone a leader.”

He disputes taking a softer hand, especially as Towns and Wiggins seem to struggle with sustaining concentration at critical moments. The Timberwolves won’t be able to make those mistakes during the playoffs, but he’s being more selective with his words.

“I’m not soft,” he said. “If I see something wrong, I speak on it. If you don’t like it, oh well. You’ll get over it.”

One thing he could take a bird’s eye view of was the aftermath of LeBron James and Kevin Durant’s comments to the “Uninterrupted”, where they were criticized by cable news hosts for speaking out against President Donald Trump.

No stranger to criticism, Butler would likely have the same approach if he dipped his toes into that arena.

“I like it. You got the right to say what you want and you speak on what you think is right,” Butler said. “Good for them. And they are magnified in a very big way. They embrace it and they’re doing the right thing, I’m all for it.”

And if the day comes where he doesn’t stick to sports, Butler’s directness and lack of diplomacy would certainly cause an interesting reaction.

“I don’t care. Whatever I believe in, I believe in,” Butler said. “Everybody else does it. You see everybody on Twitter and the Internet doing it and saying what they want to say. We just have a different job than the person to our left and right.”

Well, not quite a warm and fuzzy Jimmy Butler.

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

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AP

Anthony Davis could be the lone torch-bearer for Chicago at All-Star weekend in 2020, and object of recruitment

There were no Lakers or Clippers in the 2018 All-Star Game, but Los Angeles was well-represented with plenty of homegrown talent, plenty of historians with Los Angeles ties and all the pageantry L.A. can provide.

Russell Westbrook, Paul George and James Harden are among the All-Stars who came home to put on the biggest show of entertainment the league has to offer, and the new format featuring captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry produced one of the most competitive finishes in recent All-Star history as the spectacle wasn’t lost on DeRozan, who plays for the conference-leading Toronto Raptors.

“It was a dream come true,” DeRozan said. “I’ll forever be a part of this, and to come out and be a starter in my hometown, it was a dream come true.”

With Chicago hosting the event in 2020, one wonders if the city or the Bulls will be as represented.

“What better time to do it than in Chicago?” Bulls rookie Lauri Markkanen said about his aspirations of being an All-Star sooner rather than later.

New Orleans’ Anthony Davis, to this point, is the only Chicagoan carrying the torch as an All-Star. For years, Chicago could claim their homegrown talent rivaled the likes of Los Angeles and New York, the self-proclaimed “Mecca”.

But now they’ve fallen behind in the way of star power, as Derrick Rose has gone from MVP to one of the biggest “what if” stories in modern-day sports. Jabari Parker was expected to be next in line but his future as a star is murky due to the same dreaded injury bug.

“I didn’t know that. But there’s a lot of great players (from Chicago),” Davis said Saturday during media availability. “Jabari is just coming back, Derrick is going through what he’s going through. That’s fine. D-Wade is getting older. We have a lot of great guys. Guys have been hurt, in D-Wade’s case he’s just getting up there in age now (laughs).”

Davis is arguably the league’s most versatile big man, keeping the New Orleans Pelicans afloat while DeMarcus Cousins is out with an Achilles injury. He’s had to watch the likes of George deal with free agent questions about the prospect of coming home to L.A., even after he was traded from Indiana to Oklahoma City in the offseason.

It still hasn’t stopped the chants from Lakers fans, panting after George in the hope he’ll be a savior of sorts. And even though his contract isn’t up for another few seasons, teams are lining up in the hope they can acquire him through free agency or trade.

It could very well be him getting the chants when the All-Star party comes to Chicago and he could be joined by the likes of Markkanen and Zach LaVine in the big game.

LaVine was in Los Angeles for the weekend and Markkanen opened eyes around the league with his showing in the rising stars game as well as the skills challenge.

Davis could wind up being the object of everyone’s affection and could find himself being recruited by the likes of LaVine.

Even though 2021 is a long way away, a guy can dream, right?

“I mean, I’m cool with a lot of dudes in the NBA. I feel like I’m a likeable guy,” LaVine told NBCSportsChicago.com about recruiting star players to the Bulls franchise. “I can talk about situations like that, it would be my first time being put in a position. It would be a little bit different but I think I can handle it.”

LaVine has his own contract situation to take care of this summer, being a restricted free agent but understands the Bulls’ salary cap position and their long-term goals.

“Yeah I think once the offseason comes and everybody settles down, and I’m comfortable, and I know the position I’ll be in,” LaVine said to NBCSportsChicago.com.

“I think we’ll start having those conversations because we want to get the franchise back to where it was, on that high plateau. That’s what it’s supposed to be.”

“I’m trying to solidify myself in the league to a certain degree. Once you start reaching those points you can talk to anybody to get to where you want to get to.”

LaVine attended several events over the weekend and shared the same space as several All-Stars in non-media settings. It’s easy to see why he would think he could have that affect with his peers.

Being careful about the rules on tampering, he said about a potential sit-down with Davis, “I would bring some Harold’s chicken to the meeting and we’ll be all good.”